[SOLVED] I can’t connect my work-issued laptop to public wireless network – how to fix it?

September 3, 2017 - Tech

Are you having trouble connecting your work-issued laptop to a public wifi — and if you can get connect, there’s still no internet access? As far as we’ve come, internet connectivity still isn’t a given. It’s very much still a common issue that can be caused by a variety of factors; it can be the device, the operating system, capacity, wireless router, system settings, user error, firewall, wireless turned off, and more.

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The Need for Consistent Internet

As a remote worker, I have limited options in terms of cafes. Within a 10 minute bike ride, there’s a handful of cafes that offers the five necessities that allows me to work well. Those things being free wireless internet, more than a few power outlets, comfortable tables and seating, provides a warm, semi-quiet atmosphere that encourages focus and last but not least — quality coffee.

About six months ago, I located one such cafe in the Flatiron district that hit on the all those notes. After ordering my latte, I sat down in the cafe, opened my laptop and attempted to connect to their public wireless. The icon said that I was connected, but when trying to visit websites on my Chrome browser, it would get stuck “searching DNS” ultimately giving me an error page with a “DNS Server Not Responding”. After several tries my new work-issued Dell laptop just wouldn’t connect to the network (but my phone would), I would just hot spot when I was at this particular cafe.

One Solution to Fix Connecting to Wifi for Remote Workers

As we mentioned above, the inability to successfully connect to wifi can be one reason or a combination of problems. I won’t go into each here, but I’ll detail how I will provide a potential solution for what how I fixed the issue with this particular cafe.

There were several things going on with my scenario. First, I had a work-issued computer. Secondly, this was an open wireless connection (there was a network, but required no password). Thirdly, in order to access my internal work network, I would sometimes have to access my VPN. The combination of all these factors seemingly provided the solution. For some reason, no matter what I tried, my work-issue laptop wasn’t able to pull up websites being “connected” to the wireless at this cafe. My Samsung S6 connected to the open network without a problem, and so did my work phone. My partner’s laptop and phone (both Apple) also connected without issue. Weird.

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Since that first day, I hadn’t been able to connect so each time I visited the cafe, I connected by tethering my phone. One day, I needed to access my intranet so, while connected to my mobile phone, I logged into my intranet via my work’s VPN. After placing my password for my VPN, I was connected. At that point, I had an idea — now that I was on my work’s VPN (a different IP address), what happened if I quickly turned off my phone’s hotspot and tried connecting to the cafe’s network?

One would think disconnecting from the internet would preclude this from being a solution, but most VPNs are patient. When they lose connection or the wifi drops temporarily, the VPN won’t drop immediately, but wait to try and reconnect to the internet while maintaining the Virtual Private Network. This allowed me to try connecting to the cafe’s network via a different IP address (basically like another laptop) and voila! it worked.

Not only was I now connected to the network, but I was able to connect to the websites that I wasn’t able to before.

For whatever reason, my work-issued computer and the open network didn’t like one another — still not sure if it’s my settings or what, but having the ability to VPN gave me another attempt at it. Again, there are a bevy of problems with connecting to the internet and this is just another one — hopefully if you’re a remote worker with a company laptop having trouble connecting to an open wifi connection and have access to a VPN, this solution will work for you, too. Good luck.

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